By BRETT MARSHALL
Even though she's been the head coach of a highly-successful Garden City cross country program for more than a decade, Krista Linenberger will be the first to tell you that she is but a small part of a bigger success picture for the Buffaloes.
Often times, great leadership comes in being able to delegate to those people with whom a person works.
So when asked when she thought the GCHS program was noticeably on a higher level, she said it was when she gave assistant coach Derek Algrim additional responsibilities in designing workout programs for both the boys and girls runners.
"We have gradually grown bigger, and there were challenges on the administrative side," said Linenberger, who has been tabbed for the second straight year as The Telegram's Fall Sports Coach of the Year. "Everything we were trying to do, taking care of the day-to-day issues, I knew we had to do something different."
Both Linenberger and Algrim are Garden City natives and graduates of GCHS, and successful runners during their prep careers.
"I believe that Derek and I think a lot alike with respect to how we want the program to be run," Linenberger said of her top assistant. "He would bring me information, researching different training programs. I was struggling at both ends, and trying to figure out the appropriate time to do things, either on the adminstrative side, or on the training side.
"I think we've arrived at a good balance now. He still brings me things and we discuss them, but I leave a lot of that up to him, and the results have certainly been impressive."
Over the past four seasons, with the now senior group of girls providing the most successful run in school history, the Buffs' program is at a high point. This past season, more than 70 runners participated in the varsity/junior varsity program.
"The award is nice, and from the outside everybody always looks at the head coach," Linenberger said. "But it's so not what it is with us."
Linenberger said running is as much about giving high school kids a chance to compete, but also to feel part of a bigger group, and they have developed a family atmosphere over the past few years.
"I think what's hit home, is that we have a philosophy of wanting these young kids to be good people," Linenberger said. "It just got to the point where those two things of developing a program and the numbers of kids in the program were working against each other. So dividing the responsibilities has been a big part of the success. But a bigger part has been the kids themselves. The senior girls have consistently placed more importance on the team's success than anything individually. And that has carried over to the boys team, as well.
"I think coach Algrim is a really great fit into the program. He's passionate about running and he's genuine. He takes care of the workouts; I take care of team meetings, bonding and those kinds of things. It's not about individualizing the sport at all."
This season, everybody expected the Lady Buffs to compete for a state championship with all five of their top runners returning. And they did just that with the runner-up finish to a powerful Lawrence-Free State team. But nobody, at least early on, expected the boys' team to accomplish some of its season-ending goals.
With no varsity runner having any previous experience at that level, the boys just improved week by week, meet by meet.
"Where we ended up (boys) I guess was a surprise," Linenberger said. "I thikn we knew the boys had a chance to qualify (for state). But to win regionals? That wasn't really on our screen. But, it was definitely exciting, and I think it was just as exciting for the girls when the boys had their success, too. It made going to state so much better this year."
The four-year run of a senior-dominated team that produced a seventh-place and two runner-up team finishes has perhaps established a lasting legacy that Linenberger hopes to see continue.
"There has been a genuineness about this group of runners," Linenberger said of her senior girls. "They never give up and they do what you have to do to succeed.
"It's been really nice to see the program grow. Derek and I never ran with these kinds of numbers. I never had a full team. But we've found something that we share passion for, and to try and translate that to younger people as to what running has done for us — as people — we both feel strongly about that."
So, in the final analysis, the success of the Garden City cross country program can be credited to a number of people.
But in this case, the leadership started at the top and Linenberger has delegated responsibility to her assistants (also Adam Cassellius), and now the team members themselves have taken on the responsibility of carrying out their workouts. That, as much as anything, is why the program is successful.